I had a friend in high school, who I guess was making a joke about me to another group of friends one day when I wasn’t around. I’m not sure why he said it or why I was even the subject of their discussion, but another kid couldn’t wait to tell me about the insult. I remember listening to what can be only described as a gleeful retelling as I walked to our locker room for my weights class. All I said was “okay” and gave it a shrug.
I didn’t know how to react to it, really. I knew the report was true because it sounded like a clever crack he might make and because the kid telling me was so excited to tell me about it. I didn’t confront my buddy about it, because I always felt if a friend really has a problem with you, or is worried about you, they’ll talk to you directly. This was, well it was just talking behind a person’s back. But it had an affect on me.
That day, after hearing it, I just felt deflated and sad. I wasn’t angry about it. It just made me question whether I knew this person at all who had said it. I played sports, and worked extra hard at them. I did my homework and studied for tests. I read voraciously. You know, it really hurt but it wasn’t the kind of hurt that made you lash out in anger.
I guess maybe I suspected there was some truth to it. And that’s what killed me and ultimately damaged our friendship. I knew I could do more at home than I did to help my folks with the yard and the cleaning. To be fair, I did make my own meals for the most part and get myself to school. Both my parents worked.
Still, I couldn’t understand why he thought I was lazy and unimaginative and why he would say that to a group of people about me.
Was he just pretending to be my friend and if so, why? I thought we were really good friends at the time. But then I realized, maybe not. If he really thought this about me, why would he be friends with me? It did make me even more guarded with my friendships than before. I admit that I hung out with this guy and the other people in our mutual circle less and less. And even when I was out with a group, I tended to be guarded with my feelings and turned to jokes instead of telling people what I really felt and thought.
I admit that one thing I have always been is timid and even afraid about making friends and I mean real friends. Being laughed at or thought a joke has always terrified me. And so I was afraid to open up to my friends tell hopes and dreams to, though a few I did confide in. I will tell you I found it difficult to share how lonely and sad I was at times and I don’t think I ever really cried in front of another friend until college.
That was tough to do as a boy in the 1980s, cry. I can say I do have some very good friends these days. Many of them are friends I’ve known since elementary school, but I think what’s helped me is to be less afraid about who I am and what people think of me. It took a while, though.
And so I come back to this little quip, made more than gosh, it’s gotta be more than 30 years ago. This tiny little piece of gossip that I remember so vividly because, while it was not the cause of my self doubts and social fears, it was more a key piece of evidence I used to justify my withholding.
But these days, I see it as something else. A reminder to just be truthful with yourself and your friends and you’ll find out who you’re really meant to have in your circle.
So what’s this have to do with writing?
Well, I’d just point out that as you develop character, think about the little things like this that can stick with them through the years. It can tell you a lot about who the character is and why they do things. But you have to really know about this kind of stuff to understand the character, even if you never reveal tidbits like this to the reader or other characters.
But the way, this was tough as heck to write for me, so sorry if it’s a little choppy, but I’m trying here.
Keep writing, keep running